As I rapidly approach my dotage, I find I have far less time, effort, and patience for online gaming. What I primarily play these days are roguelikes and single-player RPGs.
Perfect for a pre-dinner short gaming session or a, “it’s late, I had a really annoying day at work, and I just want to lose myself in another world for a few hours”. I don’t want to spend hours getting good at a game while ten-year-olds kick my ass and call me names over the Internet. So long story short, when I found out Obsidian was working on a long-awaited “sequel but isn’t actually a sequel” to the best Fallout game—a title that I literally played until it broke (good ‘ol PS3 version)—I was definitely interested. When I saw the preview at E3 and spoke with one of their lead narrative designers, Megan Starks, it looked as if The Outer Worlds was on track to be exactly everything I just described. Well, the game is here, and it’s an Obsidian game through and through in all the best ways. And as an added bonus, it also features the best shooting I’ve ever seen in similar titles.
The Outer Worlds takes place in a far distant future in another solar system where the mysterious and evil “Board” controls everything. The Board consists of several enormous and delightfully villainous mega corporations, from the budget-product Spacer’s Choice that proudly admits “It’s not the best choice, it’s Spacer’s Choice” to “Auntie Cleo’s” (definite Mom’s Friendy Robot Company vibes) as well as multiple cults, bands of rebels, outlaw groups etc… Players have options galore when it comes to choosing a faction, an aspect that was certainly present in Fallout: New Vegas but is taken to the next level in The Outer Worlds. As you do quests and tasks for NPCs, you will fall in and out of favour with the various factions, and this affects how their employees, vendors, and member NPCs will treat you. And your choices definitely matter. I made some decisions early on in the game about who to side with for a few big missions that came back to haunt me much later in the game. Obsidian isn’t kidding around with the Role Playing and Player Choice mechanics. The entire game is set-up to reward and punish you with every decision you make, and I love it. There are consequences to your actions, and even when you think you’re doing the right thing, you’re probably making someone else mad at you. It’s a fantastic way to flesh out the game’s world as well as encouraging replayability.
Speaking of replayability, let’s take a second to dive into my favourite part of an RPG: the stats. Every character has several “skill” categories, which contain two or three sub-categories. Basically, you have “Dialogue”, and under dialogue you have your “Persuade, Lie, Intimidate” sub-categories. Every time you level up, you get ten points to drop into whatever stat you want depending on your build that increases every sub-category within it. Once you’ve dropped 50 points into the main category, you are then given the option to spend points on each individual skill (for various bonuses of course).
Ranged weapons, for instance, is a main category, and once that hits 50 points, you can then allocate whatever points you receive from that point on into Handguns, Long Guns, or Heavy Weapons. If this sounds confusing, it really isn’t. For such a numbers heavy game, Obsidian did a great job of making this simple and painless. It also is a great way to get decent skills across the board for the early stages of the game before you really figure out how you want to specialize. There’s also a respec option that costs currency if you change your mind halfway through.
The Perk system also makes a return, allowing you to choose a new perk every other level (IE even numbers). The perks cover a wide range of abilities and include stuff like being able to travel while encumbered (what a brilliant idea Obsidian, ‘bout time) or increasing your sprinting speed—which, by the way, is nice and fast, especially considering it’s an open-world game with a lot of traversal, it’s great to have a character that can actually move quickly.
Guns Guns Guns…and swords, and clubs. Combat is the name of the game in this dialogue-heavy RPG, and for the first time ever, it’s pretty decent. Using firearms actually feels good in this game, especially for an RPG. Weapons have a decent weight to them, aiming and snapping off shots is satisfying, and there is an absolute ton of customization available. You have four main categories of weapons, Handguns, Long Guns, Heavy Weapons, and Melee Weapons, with several different damage types, Corrosive, Shock, Plasma, and regular ‘ol bullets. Shock is good for robots, plasma is good for monsters, corrosive melts armour, etc…I was shocked at how good sniping felt in this game, something I never really bothered with in past Obsidian titles because it was just easier to run up close to an enemy and unload into their faces. They’ve also introduced their version of the V.A.T.S. system, called “tactical time dilation”, which slows down time and allows you to aim and specific body parts. It’s handy, but not nearly as much fun or the amount of control that V.A.T.S. provided. Having said that, it’s almost refreshing to not have to rely on it during every encounter. In New Vegas I basically only used V.A.T.S. and very rarely relied on my own shooting skills. In The Outer Worlds, I play like any other shooter, snapping off shots, dodging, running around, hiding behind cover etc. It plays much more fluidly this way and feels less like an algorithm crunching stats behind the scenes. If that isn’t enough, you can customize each weapon with a huge variety of mods—new scopes, extended mags, damage type alterations, silencers— the list goes on. “Tinkering” at a work bench also allows you to spend parts and cash on increasing a weapon’s damage, but based off your engineering skill. There are a million different systems at play here and they all seamlessly work together to smoothen out what could be an intimidating amount of options and statistics.
All the above aside, what makes an Obsidian game an…Obsidian game, is their insane attention to detail and incredible dedication to world building. Every aspect of the game, from the loading screens and character models to the in-game advertisements, music, fictional TV shows and movies, and comic books, has been lovingly crafted with a distinctly Obsidian style. Retro-futurism with a goofy exterior belying a sinister message. Even the loading screens are filled with beautiful artwork and references to the game’s world, and it also featured the most brilliant meta-joke I’ve ever seen on a loading screen. Something along the lines of “You’ve just proven loading screen advertising works! To get your ad please contact [insert in-game evil corporation]. It makes the world feel genuine and, while not quite “real”, lived in and sincere. The team at Obsidian deserves a huge round of applause for the amount of care put into all the little details of the game. Also, it’s often funny or tragic or f***ed up or all three. They do this kind of thing better than any studio out there. There are so many references and easter eggs and pop-culture jokes you’ll never be able to catch them all. It actively engages the player to check things out, rather than simply scrolling through until the next mission item. I never thought reading corporate employee reviews in a video game would be fun, but here we are.
I’m going to preface this part of the review by explaining I reviewed this game on a standard PS4 that howled like a wolf the entire time. I’m sure the visuals on other platforms are much cleaner and shinier, so I’m not going to delve too deeply into things like textures and particles and character models. A. They’re all serviceable and don’t detract from the amazing gameplay and B. It’s an old engine running on old hardware. What I can speak about is the art design, which is fantastic and again, notably Obsidian. Each planet or moon or space station has its own specific style, with aspects like flora and fauna varying from planet to planet and even the buildings and characters representing their various faction in unique and easily identifiable ways. The weapons, armour, and clothing all have a similar-but-different retro-future style, and thank the video game gods they kept the MS-DOS interface for the computers.
The Outer Worlds is most assuredly not a “pick up and play” burn through title. This game will keep you occupied for a long, long time. There is simply so much to do, so many characters to meet (all wonderfully voiced and written of course), and oh-so-many fun little secrets to uncover. I played around 25 hours for this review and got so caught up in various side-quests I never finished the main story. But that’s kind of the point, right? Obsidian has created a world you want to spend as much time in as possible, to the result where you keep telling yourself “I just need to finish this quest and then I’ll go to bed” for two hours straight. It oozes charm and love and personality from every orifice, and even once the gaming community has cracked all the secrets and listened to or read every single line of dialogue, it will probably already have a few expansions and mods for days. I can’t speak on the former, of course, with any credibility, but with the colossal amount of effort Obsidian has put into this title so far I’d be shocked if they didn’t keep it going. If you (like everyone) thought Fallout: New Vegas was the best Fallout game and wanted to see what the studio could do under their own steam, The Other Worlds is a perfect showcase. It’s everything you could want, and outside of a few minor bugs and quirks (it wouldn’t be an Obsidian title without them), I don’t have anything bad to say.